It’s a beautiful Memorial Day Weekend, and sadly, we are breaking tradition this year. This weekend would have been the 14th consecutive year of our annual family gathering — a three-day event that brings our whole family together.  But not this year.  This holiday weekend, we are going to my son’s soccer tournament. He’ll be playing in games on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. We’ll be lucky to have a moment to enjoy even a simple Memorial Day barbecue. Are we crazy?  After all, our kids are under 12. Do they really need to play in a holiday weekend tournament? Will they be damaged if they miss it?

I imagine there are many families who are struggling in some form or another with sacrificing family time for the sake of youth sports tournaments.  And these types of struggles are happening with more families with younger children than in years past. The dilemma is our struggle to know what to do. Should we protect our family time at the expense of missing this tournament, or should we stick with our commitment to the team … a team of 10 and 11 year olds?

When speaking to parent groups, I often hear both sides of the story. One perspective is “You have to honor your commitments to the team. What sort of message are you sending to your child if he or she attends only practices or games that are convenient?” Other parents will say, “They are only kids. Why should quality family time take a back seat to a relatively meaningless tournament? Of course your kids want to play, but they are only 11. Should they be making all the decisions?”

Other experts will encourage parents to do their homework before the season, identify potential conflicts and work them out in advance with the coaching staff. Maybe the coaches will make exceptions, but we worry our kids will somehow be placed at a disadvantage. Maybe it will hurt their chances to play at the next level. Maybe they will be ostracized by their teammates who are resentful because they made the sacrifice.

Other experts will remind parents to live in reality. If you want to play higher level, more demanding sports, these are the sacrifices you have to make. It is different than it was during our generation. If you don’t like it, then maybe you need to move your child to lower level, less demanding sport commitments. Maybe that will be disappointing to your kids. Maybe they won’t develop as well in their particular sport, but the sacrifice to family is taking its toll, and in the end, it is not worth missing so many family dinners, family weekend events, and even just relaxing downtime.

Should we protect our family time at the expense of missing this tournament, or should we stick with our commitment to the team … a team of 10 and 11 year olds?

I wish I had an answer for all of these questions. Instead, I try to revisit basic questions: What does my child want? What does my child need? Is this sacrifice to our family worth it because of the benefits to my child? Do I respect the coaching staff and their philosophy about sports, and does that philosophy match our family mission?

This year, we like our coach and the benefits of making this commitment. Next year, we may change our mind.

Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.